Diagnosis with a cost: How dementia strains families and finances

Diane Smith works sixty hours a week to pay for her husband Ron's memory care.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Diane Smith walks down the hallway with an infectious smile, greeting everyone she sees.  Today is one her rare days off.  The cardiac and intensive care nurse is more often than not on the job.

“Sixty hours a week,” she describes her regular schedule.  “I work two shifts of overtime every week.”

It is the price Diane has to pay for her husband Ron Smith’s around-the-clock care.

“His behavior got more and more bizarre and he was getting lost driving in circles,” she remembers the signs two years ago.  “And he would go to the store and just get lost and forget where he was.”

“His behavior got more and more bizarre and he was getting lost driving in circles. And he would go to the store and just get lost and forget where he was.”

Not long after he started displaying the changes, Ron was in a car accident.  He had an MRI, and then came the diagnosis: vascular dementia.  A first and second opinion confirmed Ron had suffered strokes that went undetected until the imaging.  Ron was only 49.

Ron Smith enjoys a visit from his wife Diane and 11-year-old daughter Cassie.
Ron Smith enjoys a visit from his wife Diane and 11-year-old daughter Cassie.

Diane says Ron’s health quickly declined, and the father of three entered a Memory Care Facility in April 2015.

“Dementia is the single most expensive disease to manage,” Diane says.  “Not for the treatment, but for the care of these people because long-term very, very few people can stay at home and be managed at home with this disease process.”

The Alzheimer’s Association lists common dementia symptoms as loss of memory, communication and language.  The patients’ ability to focus and pay attention lessens, along with their reasoning, judgment and visual perception.

“He had come so close to hurting himself so many times that it wasn’t safe to keep him home,” Diane remembers.

21632a7c5d294b94a09bd12ace98f074Diane paid $45,000 out of pocket last year.  The Alzheimer’s Association says costs can exceed $90,000 a year, depending on the patient’s need.

“Room and board is solely the family’s responsibility,” explains. “It is never ending, never ending. If you can imagine your monthly budget with, you know, your bills or anybody else’s bills and now you got $4,000 added on to that. Bam! There you are. Yeah, it’s tough.”

Diane knows many families have a hard time making ends meet once a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, especially when a younger patient is involved.

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“There’s grants and there’s assistance for people who have the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, dementia and are over 60,” she says.  “That grant isn’t available to us due to his age.”

No matter the age, the Alzheimer’s Association says these diseases can strain families and finances, and many hesitate talking about it.

It is why Diane is sharing her experience.  She also recommends anyone whose spouse is diagnosed with dementia seek power of attorney before the condition worsens.

“I thought that because I had been married to him for 24 years I didn’t need it,” she calls to mind. “Now I’m in a position where we can’t sell our house because he can’t sign his part.”

The Richmond community can support families like Diane’s at the 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer’s on November 5.  Register to join the WRIC Taking the Lead team by following this link.

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